Still processing last night… standing outside my apartment surround by flashing lights: three firetrucks, an ambulance and a cop car. Apparently, a computer modem in my neighbour’s 3rd floor office melted due to a short and started a fire. It must have been smoldering for a long time because by the time the firefighters arrived billows of black smoke were already pouring out the window. No open flames, but it was significant enough to cause the carbon monoxide detectors that firefighters wear when they enter a burning building to beep wildly, and to warrant the use of two hoses.
Twenty minutes earlier as I was going to bed I thought I smelled wafts of smoke, but I ignored it thinking someone had blown out candles on a deck or something. I also ignored distant rhythmic electronic chirps thinking a car alarm had gone off… I live in the city after all. But when the beeping didn’t stop, I identified it was from inside the neighbours’ house. So I roused myself out of bed and went next door to see what was happening. I knocked, but no answer. A fire, but nobody home. At that exact moment the neighbours arrived to find smoke filling their entire two floor apartment. You could see it clinging to the ceiling in the hall when they opened the front door.
The emergency crew arrived within minutes of the 911 call, luckily. It is freaky to think that had we discovered the fire fifteen minutes later it could have been so much worse. I believe we were minutes away from open flames. All that needed to happen was a curtain or other flammable item to cross paths with the melted hardware for a much larger fire to burst forth. And this was in the middle building in a row of three old houses.
Just two days ago I was telling a friend about the time I was in a house fire while traveling in Europe during my year off from University. I was somewhere in England, crashed at the house of friendly strangers who had taken me and a fellow traveler in for the night. Joe from New Zealand and I were sleeping together, of course, so we opted to spend the night on the floor rather than try to squish on the couch.
The morning after a lovely evening with our hosts, I awoke from a dream where I was being suffocated to find we were literally choking in a room full of smoke. Someone had spilled wine on one of the cushions and had set it up on a heater to dry out. Everyone forgot about the cushion at bedtime, and over the course of the night it caught fire – smoke pumping out into the room where Joe and I slept.
Our decision to snuggle on the floor instead of trying to squeeze on to the couch probably saved our lives – the biggest cause of death in house fires is smoke inhalation rather than fire itself. But, thanks to the physical properties of smoke, there is a twelve inch gap breathable air along the floor. And it was in that narrow band of refuge where my beau & I slept, the cushion smoldering away all night.
I awoke from my dream to discover a grey-white sheet of smoke hovering a half inch above my nose like a low hanging cloud before the storm. Somehow despite my sleepy daze, I was able to locate the source of smoke – the cushion – grabbed it with my bare hands and threw it outside, pouring water on it to stop the fire. I kicked Joe awake (he was quite a bit bigger than me, and as a result was breathing in more smoke through his nose) and got him out of the room. Then after waking up our hosts who were sleeping upstairs, I opened up all the windows to air out the house.
At breakfast everyone joked about the situation, but I couldn’t get over the immediacy. Instead I sipped on milk to quell my awareness of how close a call it was.